Big ambitions aren’t just for big cities

Posted on

Thomas Family


By Jacki Miskimins

For The Daily Republic


EDITOR’S NOTE: Palace City Profiles is an ongoing series of community members’ stories, introducing us to our neighbors and the personalities that call Mitchell home. If you have suggestions for individuals or families with a great story, please contact Jacki Miskimins at 996-1140.


Demographers and statisticians refer to the Mitchell area as a “Micropolitan.” Commentators say “flyover country,” and others see the region as simply rural; and yet, the region is home to a variety of career and educational opportunities that belie the relatively small population.


Unaware of these opportunities, many people from the region think they have to head to larger cities to pursue their dreams; cities where they may have to compromise their career for their family, or vice versa.


Fredel Thomas was one. Originally from Tripp, she says she was headed for New York City.


“I was going to be a big city girl, I was just sure of it,” she recalls.


Plans changed, though, when she lost her mother during college.


“After that, it was all about family. Being close to my dad and younger sister and brother, watching them grow up. New York City was out.”


And with it, she thought, her big ambitions.


Pursuing a degree in Computer Science at the University of South Dakota, Fredel worried that she would have to taper her career goals to live close to her family. Instead, she’s found professional and personal opportunities in Mitchell that she never dreamed possible.


Her first big break came in the form of an internship with Martin Group (now CHR) between her junior and senior years in college. The technical culture was a perfect environment to apply her education, and before she graduated, she was extended an offer to join the company full-time.


In her 12 years with the company, Fredel pursued opportunities in all areas of the business.


With experience in sales, quality assurance, and seemingly everything in between, she was eventually promoted to the Director of Product Management. In that role, she had the opportunity to start multiple lines of business within the company — “intrapreneurship,” as she calls it. She also, through travel, had the chance to experience life in a bigger city; and realized that it was not the big life she had formerly dreamed of.


“There was a period of time where I was frequently in Seattle. And the more I was there, the more I realized I wanted to be here. This pace, this community, is such a better way of life for me and my family.”


Her tenure and experience also put her in a position to make a career transition that surprised even her, when she accepted a position as the Director of the Kelley Center at Dakota Wesleyan University.


“I got caught off guard — again! — at the opportunities right here. And I was grateful that my experience had prepared me so well for this type of a career change.”


It turned out to be an exact fit, even providing her the opportunity to complete her MBA in Strategic Leadership from DWU while she worked.


Flexible scheduling, a family-friendly atmosphere, an elementary school right on campus, and it being a faith-based institution have made Dakota Wesleyan an ideal place for Fredel to work, while Mitchell remains her ideal community.


“I didn’t have to compromise,” she says with pride. “Neither did my family.”


Her husband, Jason, has built a career in the telecommunications industry, a major player in the local technology scene. Their children, meanwhile, have access to personal, high-quality education and exceptional public parks, and family-focused health care options.


Despite a life spent near the Mitchell region, Fredel is still in awe of the options her eyes have been opened to. “Not only can you develop an amazing career, you can also develop skills here that transition when you make a career change. You are not locked in to just one company or just one path.”


When Fredel Thomas gave up dreams of New York City, she did not have to compromise any of her ambitions; in fact, she was able to go further than she had ever imagined.


“I never thought I could get to where I am today, in Mitchell. But now I realize that I never could have done it anywhere else.”